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REVIEW: Cleaning House, by Jeanne G’Fellers

Title: Cleaning House

Series: Appalachian Elementals Book One

Author: Jeanne G’Fellers

Genre: Fantasy

LGBTQ+ Category: Bi, Non-Binary

Publisher: Mountain Gap Books

Pages: 285

Reviewer: Siri

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About The Book

Centenary Rhodes is an old soul with a well-traveled name, but she doesn’t know this yet.

Growing up in southern Appalachia wasn’t easy, so Cent left home as soon as she could, but the post-collegiate happiness she’d expected has never occurred. She can’t find a decent date, much less find that special someone and, after losing her job in a corporate downsize, she’s struggling to meet her most basic needs. Her car has been repossessed, her bills are piling up, and her questionable North Chicago neighborhood is dangerous to navigate.

Returning home to Hare Creek, Tennessee, never crosses Cent’s mind until her Great Aunt Tess contacts her with an offer she can’t refuse. The family’s southern Appalachian homestead must be sold, and Aunt Tess needs someone to clean it up. Cent will have access to Aunt Tess’ garden and truck and can live on the homestead rent-free for as long as it takes. A part-time job is waiting for her as well.

It’s a chance to solve some of Cent’s financial woes, but will her return be enough when evil sets its sights on Embreeville Mountain and the homestead?

Cleaning House is a carefully woven Appalachian tapestry of granny magic, haints, elementals, and the fantastic diversity of the human condition – served with a delicious side of fries and a generous quart of peach moonshine.

Contains LGBTQ+ characters across the spectrum and a non-binary/enby protagonist.

The Review

I’m a sucker for a story with a vivid setting, especially one that isn’t seen often. Add in a protagonist coming home to rediscover who she was meant to be, find love, and build a community, and Cleaning House is right up my alley.

Jeanne G’Fellers is writing an #ownvoices story here, and it shows. The Appalachian setting just zings off the page, from the descriptions of the land to the Tennessee dialect of some of the characters. More than that, when Jeanne writes characters who are queer or nonbinary (and there are plenty in this story, including the protagonist, Centenary), they’re writing from the heart.

As the novel opens, Centenary is living in Chicago, struggling to make her rent, alone except for one loyal friend. She left home years ago because of her mentally ill mother and the homophobia in rural Tennessee. When her great-aunt Tess phones to ask her to come back, she’s reluctant to leave the life she’s been trying to build—it feels like giving up.

But family roots run deep, and soon Cent is back on the homestead where she was raised, with Tess and her gay cousin Aubrey. Her gradual rediscovery of her background coincides with an external threat, and she risks losing her home just as she’s found it again.

Layered into all of this is fantasy in spades. There’s folk magic, Cherokee beliefs, elemental beings, past lives, and more. It all hangs together well, but it’s a lot to keep straight, especially when it’s all dumped on Cent at once. How she fits into this world is revealed more gradually—almost too gradually, as the story drags at times. Flashbacks are used liberally, and although they are both interesting and essential to the story, they do slow the forward momentum of the plot in the present day.

Cent is also a less active protagonist than she could be—there are a lot of things happening to her that she simply accepts (for reasons I won’t spoil), and while the plot does center around her, she’s more often receiving information and reacting than she is making choices that drive the plot forward.

Having said that, I very much enjoyed watching Cent come into her own. She finds a lover who is supernatural but who also helps her come to a clearer understanding of her own gender identity and sexual orientation. (She is always definite about her preferred gender expression.) Her blood family and chosen family coalesce around her. There’s a running theme of being torn between two worlds and how it can either destroy you or make you stronger. And, finally, she makes a stand to declare who she is and where she belongs.

But it won’t be easy…which is why there’s a sequel coming soon. Keeping House will be out July 8, 2019, and is already available for preorder from your favourite online bookstore. I’m looking forward to reading it.

The Reviewer

Siri Paulson loves nothing more than mixing up genres to see what will happen. She also wears the hats of non-fiction editor by day and chief editor of micro-publisher Turtleduck Press by night. Her other passion is contra (folk) dancing. Thankfully, her long-suffering spouse is good at keeping himself occupied. After growing up in Alberta, Canada, she moved to Toronto and achieved her lifelong dream of buying an old house, dubbed the TARDIS because it’s bigger on the inside. Other lifelong dreams include publishing novels (one and counting), travelling the world (so far, so good), and becoming an astronaut (still waiting on that one). She can be found at QueeRomance Ink, on her blog, and on Instagram. Her most recent publications are a short story in the anthology Timeshift, edited by Eric S. Fomley, and an m/m steampunk serial at Turtleduck Press.

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